On Body and Soul, written & directed by Ildikó Enyedi, is a Hungarian drama film with subtly complimenting elements of fantasy, romance, and mystery. The film stars Alexandra Borbély and Géza Morcsányi in the main roles, while Réka Tenki stars in a supporting role.
Just like its title would suggest, it is a reflective piece on the contrast that exists between what manifests and what is conceptual. The connection and distinction between body and soul. Moreover, it is explored so greatly that the viewer may find it hard to differentiate between what’s spiritual and what’s real. It dives more technically into the artsy trend of imagery and impressions running parallel with the story and is exceptional because it connects the two.
From the depth of the story and the near perfection of the direction to the performances, “On Body and Soul” is a masterfully crafted film, of which the only major flaw is not being long enough. With an artistic style so unique and the world that the narrative surrounds as so captivating, one would only hope to experience more.
Nonetheless, the excellence of “On Body and Soul”’s screenplay definitely dives into the depths of the film’s core ideas as highly as it gets. While the fantasy aspects of the film spark one’s curiosity greatly, the mystery and thriller elements feel complete and are written compellingly. It deservingly won the Golden Bear in Berlin and was nominated for the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars.
Now that the general impression that the film has had on me has been discussed, let’s get into the depths without further ado.
Story, Setting, and Characters:
The premise of “On Body and Soul”’s story is a very interesting one. In reality, it depicts all the suffering and brutality the livestock animals go through on a daily basis, while in the dreams it depicts the soul and innocence of wildlife in its habitat.
Endre (played by Géza Morcsányi) is a dispassionate CFO at an abattoir, who remains unmoved while witnessing even the cruelest possible sufferings that the to-be-slaughtered animals suffer. Mária (played by Alexandra Borbély) is a newly hired quality inspector who’s often at odds with others due to her autism-induced behavior. The two introverted characters barely interact without mild hostility in reality but are linked together by their dreams.
The two have a recurring dream in which they’re a pair of deers in a forest. After a while, but a hunch of familiarity does begin to occur for both of them whenever they see each other. This creates a Hitchcockian situation – where the audience may know what the characters are unaware of. In addition, while in Hitchcock’s case, the audience had to hope for the characters to know things so they could prevent dying from the ticking bomb, here the audience would hope the same for the sake of the two finding love, or at least getting to know of the link that their dreams share.
Things begin to shake up when an animal mating powder is stolen from the abattoir. Things are tightened to such a degree for the sake of investigation that every employee is psychologically assessed via a personality test that analyzes the history of the workers’ sexuality, their physical development, and also their dreams. This is how the connection of the two protagonists emerges in reality when the two share their dream in the assessment.
The psychologist thinks of it as a prank, but the plotline eventually deviates from the case to the unity of Endre and Mária. The film then takes turns as a drama romance with aspects of a thriller. The two remain suspicious about the dream for a while, but the recurring causes them to get closer, and a relationship is formed between the two.
From then onwards, are explored the highs and lows of the two protagonists’ relationship, and how they and the dream influence each other. The farther they move, the closer the dream brings them again, and the closer they get, the farther the dream gets from them.
What I love vehemently about this Hungarian master-craft of a film is that it excels at being so many things. It’s as great a fantasy drama as it is a deterritorialization of romance, and is one of the most interesting mystery films of recent times. It’s in fact very fitting to say that “On Body and Soul” has some of the best storylines I’ve seen throughout films.
Cinematography, Music, and Production:
Máté Herbai’s work as the cinematographer beautifully compliments “On Body and Soul”. It can in a way be said as the film’s body and soul at the same time due to how greatly it captures the essence of both. It may have been filmed in indoors Hungary, but almost every shot is framed so symmetrically, that one can never laud the cinematography of the film enough.
Enyedi’s direction may have relied greatly upon the excellence of the narrative itself, but the cinematography was mostly enough to tell the tales, especially when used as a tool to serve character build-up. The dream sequences especially are where the cinematography peaks, but even the tiniest of the characters are framed in such a way that it acknowledges their dissociation from the dream world that only the two protagonists are bound with.
Ádám Balázs’ original score is also one of the major contributors to its excellence in terms of the more technical aspects of the film. It complements both the body and the soul of the film greatly, nearly like the cinematography itself. It could still have found some more identity and authenticity, but it’s hard to deny that it’s highly complementary, and is a treat to listen to separately as well.
What serves the cinematography’s effectiveness, even more, was that the film is set in an actual Hungarian abattoir, with all of the slaughterhouse brutalities being real recordings.
The music, the cinematography, and the production for “On Body and Soul” are one of the major reasons why I rate the movie that highly. A film with a narrative as excellent would only be better with greater cinematography, music, and production, which fortunately is the case here too.
“On Body and Soul” is a uniquely crafted film that succeeds at being the best side of multiple genres while keeping its signature styles in the cinematography and the visual storytelling methods. It’s a captivating blend of Leos Carax and Hitchcock, where the suspense surrounds the fantasy and fiction as much as it surrounds the complexity of relationships and virtual connections between people.
The only thing that one may not like about the film is the fact that they would just want to explore more and more of this universe of shared dreams. The end-result is, regardless, one of the best films of its year.